Opinions
the Gauntlet

Seeking stability in Russia

Strong cultural sense may help find firm ground in politics

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We Russians desperately need stability in our politics today. We have a very popular president and prime minister, but we still lack a stable, legitimate and overall efficient constitutional system. Corruption and social ignorance are still widespread. The current economic crisis is going to be a real test to the stability of the political system.

Nevertheless, in contrast to its weakness in politics and economics, Russia has a core cultural and intellectual strength that is a great source of national pride. Our culture sustained us even during the Soviet terror. If only we could achieve moderation in our political discourse, we would have every reason to be optimistic about the stability of our government and the future of our country.

There is not much evidence of moderate political discourse in Russia. Despite the great success of the team of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in public opinion, the Russian media have become prey to extremes. The media give us either the luscious propaganda image promoted by the state TV channels or the intolerable, shrill, self-serving, unqualified complaints made by the opposition. Everyone in the press is either in love with the present state of affairs or bitterly critical of them. In addition, the Western press is full of criticism of Russia-- especially of Putin and Medvedev-- but this criticism is self-evidently incompetent and biased. Russian people on the whole do not argue much about politics. Most Russians are apathetic and others merely capitalize on the dangerous instability of Russian politics.

In the midst of this crisis, let us try to find a middle ground. Let us try an unemotional, thoughtful consideration of Russia in the 21st century. We have bungled political analysis and are not able to make any kind of adequate prediction, not to mention suggestions. Let us put aside political speculation for a moment and turn instead to the cultural strength that is our birthright. Our culture should be the basis for a broad, independent and careful analysis of Russia's political and economic positions. These aspects should all be analyzed together and the tone of this analysis should be moderate.

There are good cultural grounds for constructing a moderate analysis. Every educated Russian, no matter what their attitude towards the Putin government, is proud of Russian culture. We all know that Russia has an immense tradition. Russian music and literature are among the best in the world. To put our situation in the terminology of Nobel Prize winning author V. S. Naipaul, Russia has a national centre. Our culture creates a centre for us, unites us as a nation and pushes us forward. Every Russian feels a split between our great cultural achievement on the one hand and our country's recent economic and political chaos, on the other.

Further, despite our problems, Russia has come a long way from the totalitarian and criminal regime of the Soviet Union. Our borders are open, censorship is existent but lenient. We have had economic success. The Putin government has shared our vast oil wealth among the majority of the population. Today there are half as many poor people in Russia as there were in 1999. The average income has risen from $70 to almost $750 per month.

No one denies that there are severe challenges. Russia still has some fundamental problems in its social and economic spheres and these problems are very dangerous now and could be even more dangerous in the future. Some people feel nostalgia for the Soviet Union and its military glory. It was a catch-22. Once people became more confident in their financial situation, they began to be nostalgic of the great Soviet Empire and the unity of the Soviet people.

For these reasons, Russia now needs to develop a strong, reasonable, moderate political and economic discourse, not tied to personalities. Russia's vast cultural achievement should provide the support to this moderate discourse and our present economic success should also play some part. The whole of Russia would benefit from a moderate discourse. Moderation will be the true guarantor of the constitution and the whole system of the government. A moderate discourse in the press would encourage our government to moderate itself.

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